Doc

My grandfather died this week. It seems all I write about these days is death and more death.

I’ve lost both grandparents, husband and wife, in the last seven months, and I’ve heard it often happens this way–the wife dies, the husband follows soon after. My grandfather had Alzheimer’s and didn’t realize my grandmother had died back in the summer, but he deteriorated at warp speed afterward. Like he did know, somehow.

He was a jazz musician, a complicated genius, a laid-back optimist with the ability to tune things out. He was 92 when he died, but we all felt shocked when the nurses called and said he was gone for real.

He’s not here. We are. I’m still running, but with weights on my heart. That’s all I know right now.

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Beauty for Ashes

There is something bizarre about staring at your 39-year-old face in the mirror, the one that’s held up ‘til now (more or less) but is beginning to give up the fight, not all at once, but in little slip-ups under the eyes and near the nose, while also thinking about your dying grandmother. She doesn’t want to die right now, but pancreatic cancer doesn’t care what she wants, and you watch the familiar melt away, one day at a time. She doesn’t pencil in her brows anymore or wear the pixie-cut wig she paid so much for during chemo. That’s how you know where things stand.

You look at your own face and think about how you’ll get even older than you are now, older than this. The fat pads that have already begun their Emperor Penguin march down your face will sink further until they hang like chicken cutlets toward the center of your expression—you’ve seen it on others–and you think about the way you plan to hold them up without plastic surgery, like Natural Woman magazine said: Smile even when you aren’t happy.

But you know you’ll keep being shocked at your reflection until you die because your grandmother is shocked at hers and she’s 81. Only in her case, the fat isn’t resting along her jawline, log-jammed and soft and sweet. It’s gone. And you realize for the first time how very good fat is, how much you love and need it to feel normal.

You start crying, again, because you love her so much and because it’s unacceptable to watch her evaporate like this. You think about the futility of everything, of the hair color you use and the tinted sunscreen, of the 10K you’re trying to run. You hate yourself for wondering if your tears are, even now, speeding up the aging process. You dab your eyes with toilet paper (never tug), and you Google medium coverage CC creams that cost a little more than you can afford. Because you can’t not care, God help you, though none of it matters in the end. You notice your eyes get small when you cry, but are nice enough under makeup, what with your inherited good eyebrows. Like her eyes used to be.

All the hanging on, the self-pity, it’s ashes and dust. You’ll end up there anyway, you think, if you live long enough. People say

Embrace your age,

love it,

it’s only a number,

 beauty is ageless,

you’re only as old as you feel,

beauty is skin-deep,

death is natural,

 circle of life,

she lived to a good age,

she’s leaving behind a legacy of love.

Noise.

You want to see your grandmother again in the New Earth, where everything sad has finally come untrue, and you want her to be thirty and strong and sexy with her tiny waist and red lips and shiny black hair. And you want to run to her and grab her up and swing in circles while you both laugh and she raises one arched eyebrow and says, “Hi, darlin’.”

So you’ve decided you’ll wait ‘til then. You’ll watch your own face melt and keep smiling. You may even accept the process of dying after a while. But you don’t have to like it, you remind your reflection. You don’t. In the meantime, you’ll be happy for her, whose glory will soon be more shocking than you can imagine because she’ll bathe in the light of Jesus and he’ll have made her smile forever.

*I said I wasn’t going to blog anymore–or probably not–or not very much, but here I am, posting this blast of grief because of what’s going on in my life right now. So be it. Sigh*

Since Then

June was insane.  I finished a draft of my third novel by writing every day for thirty days, no excuses, including weekends (I logged about 40,000 words).  During ten of those days, my husband was singing in California, leaving me to parent our 12, 13, and 14-year-old on my own (read: forage for brightly colored foods like pop ice and cheese and binge-watch old episodes of House while the kids played too many video games when they should have been sleeping).

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(Photo by my son, Ivan)

By the time my husband finally came home in early July my youngest sister and her three kids were already visiting our home to celebrate Independence Day.  Then, suddenly, my grandmother passed away, and my middle sister and her three kids drove thirteen hours to join the rest of us during that hard time.  The last seven days are a smear of lipstick and tears.

And, to quote Sarah Mclachlan, I’m so tired that I can’t sleep.

A few things come to mind: 1). Life happens in contractions.  There’s the normal we get bored of and there’s the pain we resent.  2). We don’t appreciate the respite without the strain in-between, and 3). You can still get a lot of stuff done in chaos, but you’re always glad when you managed to work ahead and can somewhat avoid that I-can’t-feel-my-feet feeling.

And then there’s this.  God is always good, even when life isn’t.

Snow Day

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It’s Monday and my teacher husband is home because of the snow.  It’s tempting to take a break from everything and just veg, but the problem is, this isn’t the first, second, or even third snow day he’s had this winter.  If we were to continue to take days off whenever he was out of school, the kids and I would be doing work well into the summer, and nobody–but nobody–wants that around here.

So we’ll carry on, albeit a little languidly, and perhaps in our pajama pants.  I admit I secretly love when nature ruins our carefully laid plans, not on a grand scale where there’s devastation and permanent damage, but on a small one.

I look out in the yard and the dogs are bouncing high through cold powder, and everything is so white it hurts my eyes.  And here we are inside, slow, our stomachs full of Cheerios.  The snow will not allow us to hurry, and I’m grateful.

Back and Forth

We said goodbye to our four-year-old nephew today.  We’d kept him for a few days because his parents were out of town.  It’s amazing how much having a little one changes the dynamic in a family.  With two teenagers in the house (and one who’s almost there) things are different for us than they were an eyeblink ago.

These days our lives are marked by large swaths of the predictable.  There’s lots of quiet and a fair bit of angsty journal writing.  But four-year-olds need to yell, to jump straight up in the air, to be reminded to go potty.  They need eye contact and physical touch and snacks.  They need sleep.

As we re-arranged our lives to provide those things for our nephew I realized that my teens need a lot of the same things he does–still, after all this time.  I watched them hunker down and watch kid cartoons with the pre-schooler, wrestle till they were sweating, play hide-and-seek, and evil robots.  I watched them grab books and blankets during the little guy’s nap, giving in to the old relief of a time-out.  I watched them be kids, and also, I saw their rapidly approaching adulthood as they helped meet the needs of someone smaller.  Someone they used to be.

And I remembered:  deep down, we are all four-year-olds.

 

 

The One Percent

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As I type, my daughter lies sleeping next to me.  We’ve been up since 5:00 A.M, stuffed stray shoes in backpacks, filled coffee mugs one last time, because my sister and her kids left to return to their home in VA while our town still slept.  They were with us for over a week, a blessing we didn’t anticipate because we hadn’t counted on the winter storm that painted our city and theirs in clean, thick white.  We couldn’t have been more pleased.

We did a lot in our eight days of togetherness–a little homework, a lot of Netflix watching, video game playing, late night giggling, drawing, even poetry reading.  We took turns cooking our favorite comfort foods and tossing paper plates and napkins into a continually popping fireplace.  We stared at one another’s messy hair and naked eyes and smiled comfortable smiles.

We are rich in family.

I told all six kids that after they’d piled into one room to spend their last night together.  Rich as Croesus.  Not everyone is.  And just like with material wealth, those who live in abundance should seek out those who don’t, in order to bless them in small or big ways.   My prayer is that some of what filled our house this week will spill over into other lives that intersect ours–to pay it forward, somehow.

In the meantime, I’ll keep warm this winter from inside out, my heart stoked with the orange embers of sister love.

The Invisible Tie

My sister is coming to visit tomorrow, and it’s at just the right time.  It’s always at the right time–one I can hardly plan and didn’t know I needed until after she arrives.  Then she parks the van, and the kids tumble out,  and I realize I almost wasn’t making it before but that I didn’t know it.

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And then I feel that jolt, you know the one, when you jerk in bed because you think you’re falling off the edge, and your heart is left racing at something that never happened.

Sometimes my heart races when she and I are sipping coffee in my kitchen because, what if she hadn’t come right when she did?  But then I tell myself it’s just a bad dream. Because she always comes when I need her.